Ann Meyers Drysdale gets Kobe & Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award

Naismith Memorial and Women's Basketball Hall of Fame member Ann Meyers Drysdale has been named the recipient of the 2024 Kobe & Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award, the WNBA announced.

Meyers Drysdale -- the accolade's third honoree alongside NBA legends Chris Paul (2022) and Pau Gasol (2023) -- will be presented the award Sunday evening during the NBA All-Star Game.

"Annie has been a force inspiring young girls on and off the court -- something she, Gianna and Kobe shared and cared about deeply," Vanessa Bryant, chair of the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation, said in a statement. "I'm happy Annie is receiving this award in Kobe and Gianna's memory -- she is so deserving."

"Annie Meyers Drysdale is a pioneer who has had a profound impact on our game and influenced generations of athletes," WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert added. "She has worked tirelessly to elevate girls and women's basketball during her decorated career as a player, executive and broadcaster. Presenting this advocacy award to such an inspiring leader is a wonderful way to honor the legacy of Kobe and Gigi Bryant, especially as we recognize the 45th year anniversary of Annie being the first woman to sign an NBA contract."

The award commends "advocates and influencers who use their time, talent and platform to raise awareness for the WNBA and girls' and women's basketball" as the late Bryant did, particularly later in his life. Kobe's daughter, Gigi, was a budding young basketball player with aims of playing collegiately in beyond. The two, along with seven others, died in a helicopter crash in January 2020.

For decades, Meyers Drysdale has been one of the most iconic figures in the women's game. She was the first high school basketball player to make a U.S. national team, ultimately competing for the U.S. in a silver medal run in the 1976 Olympics and a gold medal finish at the 1979 world championships. She was first female athlete to receive a full athletic scholarship to UCLA and the first college basketball player to be named an All-American in four consecutive seasons, helping guide the Bruins to an AIAW title in 1978. In 1979, she became the first woman to sign a NBA contract when she signed with the Indiana Pacers.

Since her playing days, Meyers Drysdale has served as an executive for the Phoenix Mercury and Phoenix Suns and has worked as a broadcaster in the NBA, WNBA, for the Olympics and more. She also was the first woman to broadcast an NBA game when she did color commentary for the Pacers.

"Having been around the WNBA since its inception, I am truly humbled to accept the 2024 Kobe & Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award and to be viewed as an advocate for girls and women in sports," Meyers Drysdale said in a statement. "I first met Kobe when his dad was coaching the Los Angeles Sparks, and I was on the Sparks' broadcast team. I knew then how much passion Kobe had for the game of basketball and how that devotion ran in the family. It was a full-circle moment for me when Kobe led his daughters to the sport, and we all saw the support he gave to girls and women in the game.

"As someone who has also lost a husband while raising young children, I hope to honor Vanessa's strength and bring further awareness to the ways that she continues to recognize her husband and daughter's legacy."